Friday, August 31, 2012


Your syllabus will be one of the most important documents you will create and use throughout the year.  Because of this, it should also take a great deal of your time to consider because it will last the whole year and set the tone for your class.  Whether it's the first time a syllabus is written or the 10th time, a lot has to be considered.  To this end there are things that are good to consider and have in your own syllabus.

First, the syllabus is the location that your students will come to understand what your class is all about.  Because of this, having a brief description of the course and outcomes of the course help at students to look through the window and see a glimpse into the future.  Another thing to keep in mind for the students is that they like to use the syllabus as a FAQ location for your class.  Therefore, covering the basic questions that they may have helps answer questions the students may have.  Some of these things to consider having in your class:
  • How you will grade the course?
  • What types of assignments they may have?
  • How frequent are assignments?
  • What are the units in this class?
  • What skills do they need?
  • What materials do they need?
  • How should they organize their materials?
  • How much effort will this class take?
  • What types of procedures will they need to know ( entering the classroom, end of class, silencing the class, if need to go to the bathroom, etc)?
There are a lot of questions.  Depending on your school, you may even need to include a specific format or certain items so you will need to keep that in mind as well such as including your e-mail, classroom number, website, and more.

Before delving in and answering all of these questions, you need to consider a few rules that are non-negotiable for you in your classroom such as  students needing to hand in homework at the very beginning of class or no food.  This is because while there may be many things you want in the classroom, your rules are the items that students will have to do or receive the consequences.  Also, sometimes there is something that you as a teacher would like the students to do but which is more of a procedure than a rule such as how a student should go to the bathroom (ie. a sign out sheet).  Another important thing to consider is that these rules will last the whole year and will be equally enforced to all students at all times so you should feel comfortable with them and be able to enforce them.  Take some time therefore and consider what you really deem to be important in the classroom and then organize into various categories so you can include them in an ordered way for the students to follow in the syllabus.

One way that I have done this in my syllabus has been to have a classroom conduct section where I lay out the behavior expectations I have for the class along with the consequences for behavior that is not appropriate for the classroom.  During the first day of classes I try to emphasize that everyone can make mistakes but it's important to learn from them and that with any choice there is a consequence for that choice.  Then I have a separate section for the procedures where I lay out what students can expect when entering my classroom (for me it's a Do Now activity), when leaving my classroom, how they can go to the bathroom, whether food and beverages are allowed or not, and more about how the class is run like handing out and turning in papers.

Once you have created your syllabus, a second thing to consider is how to determine how much information the students have processed from it.  A way that I am determining this is to have a quiz on the syllabus either the next class or the one after depending on the class.  By doing this it emphasizes how important it is to read the syllabus, not just sign the sheet, for the students.  It also highlights the parts of the syllabus that you believe are the most important.  If you don't feel comfortable with doing this then determine your own way of assessment such as reaffirming parts of the syllabus every class or week, having it posted openly in your classroom, or other reasons.

After doing all of the above, you are now prepared to make your syllabus and share it with your students.  If you are still unsure with ways to organize your syllabus or points that might be particular to your school with procedures or grading, one way to solve this is to look at your colleague's syllabi for different classes, levels, and grades.  These will give you a feel for the environment at the school.  These can typically be found from the school website or separate teacher pages  Good luck!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

School Open House

You've rocked out your first days at school and a week or two have gone by.  Now it's time for school open house to discuss your courses with the parents of your students.  This will be your first impression on the parents for your classes and thus is an important step.

While it may be intimidating or scary or many other things, what I have found is important to keep in mind is that the parents are on your side and you all want the student to succeed.  Thus, you not only want to convey what is involved in your class but what parents should expect.  One of the things I did before and am still doing which was successful is to have pieces of paper or index cards, simply something to write on and something to write with for the parents.  As the walk in, have it written on the board and ask them to share important contact information and at least one thing that they would like to share with you about their child.  This can range from an unknown hobby to a concern.  I find that this helps open the dialogue between you and the parents and it conveys important information to you as a teacher about the student.

It is also important to come in prepared as you typically only have a short time to convey all of your information.  You want to summarize the main points of your class such as what it covers, what it prepares students for, as well as grading and homework.  If possible, try not to be too rushed and leave a little time on at the end to answer any questions that parents may have.  It's also nice to introduce yourself.  Include what classes you teach, some of your background like experience and school, and anything else you think is important.  This just gives the parents an idea of who is teaching their child and helps to open the dialogue.  In my first year of teaching, when introducing myself in included my education, a little about my student teaching, a little on my philosophy of teaching, and went in to was entailed in my class.  This was followed up by questions which were well done by the parents.  During the year, this first communication helped with further ones when they took place.  And of course, remember to relax.

Call Me?

Communication is one of the most important things in being a teacher.  You have to communicate your ideas to colleagues, students, parents, and more.  In order to do this it is important to keep your channels open.  Sometimes this can be easy and sometimes it's harder than you thought.

Having gone through your welcome training, you were probably given an e-mail and told what your phone number is.  At this point everything seems to be complete and ready to communicate as much information as you can.  For me, it was not.  Even though I had received an e-mail, I had not been updated on the school website and thus, unless a student had carefully placed their syllabus with loving care is a known location, e-mail at first was a challenge until it was updated.  To fix this first problem I talked with several people in the school and was directed to the technology where I informed them of the problem and they very kindly and efficiently fixed the problem for the future.  While it seems like something simple, with everything else coming at you at the beginning of school, you want to take a minute to check how you are posted on the website.  The second issue came with the phone.  First the name was not listed on the directory so after some searching I was lead to the office to report this.  As a lot of parents call it is important to check the directory out.  Along with the directory for the phone, it's important to set up your voice mail in order to receive messages.  Depending on the school system it will take different methods but for mine it involved calling a certain number, entering a code, then changing your password and recording your voice message.  Make sure to have some patience, I ended up receiving 4 e-mails, each with different instructions before I was forwarded a 5th and correct e-mail.

To sum this all up, just make sure that when you are communicating that others can communicate back with you.